Some starred on their high school athletic teams. Some barely received any playing time. But each served his country and died in Iraq or Afghanistan.
A former swim team star was killed while defusing a roadside bomb; a one-time running back sacrificed himself so that his comrades might live. During one 14-month period in 2005-2006, at least six former athletes from Baltimore-area high schools - Marines, sailors and soldiers - died in the war. The eldest was 31 years old, the youngest 20.
To a man, they carried with them overseas the love of sport. And though they did not return, their schools, teammates and families will not forget their courage on and off the field.
Norman Anderson III was a stalwart running back, Josh Snyder a selfless receiver. Their framed jerseys hang ceremoniously on a wall in the Hereford High gym, but not for obvious reasons.
"No one will ever wear these numbers [33 and 26] again," coach Steve Turnbaugh said of the first jerseys retired in Hereford history. "Maybe these two weren't the best players ever, but they certainly proved their heroism in a far larger scheme than football."
Nearly two years have passed since Anderson and Snyder, both Marines, died in the war in Iraq. Anderson was killed by a suicide car bomber, Snyder by a sniper six weeks later. Buddies, they enlisted together and are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, 75 graves apart.
Their granite-faced military photographs, draped in black, still grace the bulletin board in Hereford's football office. Both men - Anderson was 21, Snyder a year younger - played for the school's 2001 state champions.
Even overseas, neither forgot his roots. Anderson carried videotapes of Hereford's magical season and showed them proudly to his comrades.
"Yeah, we all saw the tapes," said Jed Maki, who served alongside Anderson in Iraq and Afghanistan. "We had to laugh at the scrawny little guy Norman was in high school. He had bulked up in size since then."
Maki said that once, during a lull, Anderson's unit challenged a group of Iraqi soldiers to a football game on base.
"We killed them," Maki said. "Norman had a few touchdowns, a few interceptions. He was always willing to get his nose a little dirty."
Half a world away, engulfed in war, Anderson managed to stay abreast of his high school team's games.
"For a while, we mailed him The Sun," said his mother, Robyn Anderson. "But in his final letter he wrote, `Just send me the sports section.'
"I guess he figured he was seeing enough of the headline stuff over there."
Football and fatigues had always been Norman Anderson's passions. At Hereford, if he didn't have playbook in hand, it was a history text about World War II. Teammates applauded his relentless rushing style and dubbed him "Stormin' Norman," after Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander in the Gulf War in 1991.
Anderson relished the comparison.
"Finally, we just called him `Storm,' " Turnbaugh said.
Joining the Marines fueled Anderson's competitive nature, Maki said.
"Sports tied in with our everyday life," he said. "Marines wrestle to let off steam. Norman would wrestle anyone, anywhere - on grass or rocks, in rooms or rivers. Norman would come out bloody, but the other person was always bloodier."
On Oct. 19, 2005 - the day he died - Anderson, a lance corporal, volunteered to take the point on a morning patrol near his unit's base in the town of Sadah, near the Syrian border. From an alley, a maroon Chevrolet Caprice filled with explosives hurtled toward the Marines.
Anderson dashed toward the car - "You could tell he was a running back," a Marine said later - and shot and killed the driver. But the vehicle was apparently rigged to detonate if the driver died.
The fireball killed Anderson and wounded four others. The explosion hurled the car's engine block 50 yards and might have wiped out the 16-man patrol had not Anderson distanced himself from the other Marines.
"If Norm hadn't done what he did, a lot more guys would have lost their lives," said Sgt. James Ryan Thornton, his squad leader.
News of Anderson's death rocked Hereford High, which held a memorial service two days later at a home football game. For the rest of that 2005 season, the players - few of whom knew Anderson personally - wore decals with the initials "NA" on their helmets.
"Once a Hereford Bull, always a Hereford Bull," Turnbaugh said.
The next month, Anderson's high school teammate was slain. Cpl. Josh Snyder was shot in the aftermath of a skirmish in Fallujah, Iraq. Marines killed the assassin.
Two months earlier, while home on leave, Snyder had dropped by Hereford during football practice.
"He was wearing his [military] uniform, and he seemed awful proud," Turnbaugh said.
Like Anderson, Snyder chose to join the Marines long before graduation.
"When you saw them working in the [school's] weight room, you knew they were getting ready for boot camp as well as for football," the coach said.